Institutional racism: Can we be the home of the brave?
Like many other people today I am angry and fed up. In the last 48 hours we have seen videos of two more black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, being shot and killed by police. Although details continue to emerge about both shootings, the videos appear to show two black men shot to death by police not acting in self-defense. It doesn’t appear either man even had a weapon out, although Philando Castile was said to have a licensed, concealed weapon that he told the police about when was first pulled over.
We have a police culture in our country that doesn’t seem to be able to prevent this from happening. There is a word for what is happening, amtssprache. It’s the German word for “office talk”. When we use this language we deny responsibility for our own actions. Instead of acknowledging we choose to do something, we say he have to do it, it’s policy, or we are just following orders.
Right now we have police shooting fellow humans and rather than saying, I chose to pull the trigger and shoot them; we are told they had to do it for a multitude of reasons. I understand that we have put our police on the front lines facing mental illness, crime and poverty. They have a very tough job. The income inequality in this country is fueling anger, and the police are facing this and asked to be the ones to keep us safe.
But it’s not keeping a significant section of our population safe. According to the Washington Post, a black person is 2.5 times more likely to be shot than a white person. This has got to stop.
The first step of any change is to admit there is a problem. The police are going to have to admit something is broken here, and own they are responsible. They are responsible for a work culture that is teaching its officers to handle situations in a way that results in violence and death. Particularly if there is a nonwhite person involved.
And more importantly each individual police officer has got to own this. He or she has to take responsibility for every time they are involved in a call that results in violence. Whether they were the ones perpetrating the violence or were observing the violence in a fellow police officer. Ultimately, it’s not the rules that made them do it, it’s not the policies, more importantly it’s not the actions of the other people involved that made them act the way they did. They chose to respond in violent ways. The police aren’t responsible for what the public does, but they are responsible for their own actions.
It can be different. We know this because there are police forces in other countries that don’t respond at all like our police. It is possible to actually interact with the public on a daily basis, in all kinds of situations, and de-escalate the situations. It is possible to have peaceful interactions with the public on a daily basis.
Rather than being reactive, I would like to see the police being proactive. Take responsibility for the broken culture you are working in and take a stand to change it. Take responsibility for how racism in our country is reflected in your work environment, and take a stand to change it.
Show us how we can weed racism and violence out of the workplace, out of our interactions with each other. Pledge to learn how to protect and serve our country in a nonviolent way. Use this terrible time in our country to rise above, to show we can be the home of the brave. Please. I’m begging you.
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Editor’s note: This was written and submitted just hours before the sniper attacks in Dallas, TX. The author has not overlooked that event and is appalled and saddened by the loss of life and injuries caused by the sniper. She adds:
I was horrified by what happened in Dallas, as was as the rest of America. The Dallas Police Department has been on the front lines of retraining its workforce in de-escalation techniques. These police officers were supporting the peaceful demonstration that happened in Dallas, and in an instant were putting themselves in harm’s way to protect the protestors. Five of them died doing this. My hope is we can continue to move forward, using their police force as an example of how to change the landscape in this country. I would like to see us honor the memory of these brave fallen officers by spreading the techniques they use so successfully everyday.
Heather Schlessman, PhD is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who has spent her career either working with or teaching about families. She is also a mother who, like so many other parents, spent years muddling her way raising 3 wonderfully different children, one who happens to be experiencing a disability. Fortunately she has a life partner who muddled along with her. Spending most of her time trying to be perfect, as that would be the safest way to live, she became aware of a desire to be able to see people in a more compassionate way. Little did she know that the person she needed the most compassion for was herself. There is a saying that when you are ready to learn a teacher will appear, and so it was for Dr. Schlessman. She was introduced to the work of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the developer of Nonviolent Communication, and her world completely changed. She learned a way to have an intimate connection with herself and others, a way to truly contribute. Her passion now is to help others find their way to a more compassionate life. You can find more of Dr. Schlessman’s empathic expressions along with her husband’s, Rev. Mark Schlessman on their website.